Launched: Alfa-Romeo Giulietta

The tragic hero

“I hope this car doesn’t end up being a tragic hero” mumbles my co-driver on the recent launch of the new Alfa-Romeo Giulietta. “You know mos, a fantastic car that everyone ignores” he concludes while we negotiate hundreds of kilometers on scenic Boland back roads.

Indeed, I know mos, and can only hope that his prediction doesn’t come true because the middle part of his last statement is painfully true; the new Giulietta is nothing short of fantastic. The Golf six and new Astra (which we loved) best keep an eye on their rear-view mirror.

What they might expect to find nibbling at their heels is Alfa’s new C-segment contender, wearing a very slick and suitably stylish Italian coat. Dramatic lines, bulging eyes, floating grill, LED daytime-running lights and hidden rear door handles should be enough to get Fritz and Hans ever-so-slightly worried.

The MiTo initiated an Alfa-Romeo design which somehow managed to be unobtrusive and exciting at the same time. With very few critics, the Giulietta continues this beautiful and imposing trend without being butch; almost unisex.

Alfa big wigs at the launch were bursting with pride and assaulted us with a mind-bending array of facts concerning the new car’s heritage, equipment, performance, purpose, target market, construction, safety and dealer network.

Alfa-Romeo South Africa upped their dealership count to 18 in the dying days of 2010, its latest addition being the showroom in Somerset West. The crew of Alfa’s mothership assured us of excellent after-sales service and parts supplies.

Ahh, but what about its reliability, or potential lack thereof? Whereas I can’t report on that unless Alfa gives us a car for a year (hint, hint) we did find a solid interior with pleasant materials, good build quality and a warranty with service plan worthy of a double-take.

Five years and 150 000km warranty with a six year 90 000km service plan are joined by service intervals between 30 000 and 35 000km depending on which model you choose. Three engines, two equipment lines and a delicious sport-model are available.

The “Progression” and “Distinctive” lines are designated for two 1.4L turbo-petrol engines with 88kW and 125kW (Multi-Air) respectively. Quadrifoglio Verde (Green Clover Leaf) specification is reserved for the top-of-the-range 1750 TBi model with a rather immodest 173kW.

All Giuliettas utilise a six-speed manual gearbox with start-stop technology and Alfa’s DNA dynamic handling control as standard. A dual-clutch auto-box is expected mid 2011. Prices are N$243 000 for the 88kW version, N$279 900 for a 125kW Multi-Air and N$330 275 for the rowdy 173kW QV.

Options include various dashboard inserts, paint (including 8C Competizione pearl red), seats and leather, 16 to 18 inch wheels, Blue&Me bluetooth connectivity, MyPort TomTom detachable navigation unit, rear parking sensors, bi-xenon headlights and a panoramic roof, among others.

I could keep you entertained or bored for hours with the Giulietta’s inner workings, but here are the headlines: Designed to be the best in class, it already achieved a 5-star EuroNCAP crash-test rating, is competitively priced, cleverly constructed, better equipped than its rivals and drives like a dream.

We sampled the 125kW version first and were, as with the MiTo, amazed by the small engine’s determination to shove its host forward. It had a slight turbo-gap at low revs but then we did have to floor it repeatedly in 34-degree summer heat to keep up with the enthusiastic journo pack.

The pedals and steering are feather light, with the latter hardening up at higher speeds. Ride and handling is superb; the contemporary and clichéd balance between comfort and handling. The interior is a comfortable and exciting place to be and invites yet another cliché: Italian style.

At the second driver swap we swindled our way behind the wheel of the 1750 TBi monster Giulietta. Rest assured, if you are a performance freak and/or dedicated Alfisti, not much else will do. The 235hp car is more composed, agile and eager than you would expect.

Harder suspension, bigger brakes, an extra exhaust pipe, no grab handles for panicked passengers and serious grunt set this beast apart from its lesser siblings and prompted many to proclaim that it’s the purist’s choice.

Absolutely, I agree. But not everyone will be able to afford the angry Giulietta. Also, I had problems getting my shoes to befriend the beautiful silver pedals with matching Alfa logo; and found the regular seats in the 125kW less supportive but more comfy.

So my choice would be the middle child Multi-Air, which seems to have all the bases covered. Go for the cheaper model if you just want to commute in a stylish Italian hatchback and go for the 1750 TBi if you enjoy leaving fat elevens at the traffic lights.

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